What is insulin resistance?
Insulin resistance is a condition where our cells start losing the ability to absorb glucose. Cells need energy to perform their intended roles. Glucose is the fuel of our body. If sufficient glucose does not enter your cells, they do not get sufficient energy. Energy deficient cells send a signal to the pancreas. This induces the pancreas to produce more insulin. A situation come in where your blood is full of glucose and pancreas are constantly generating insulin. This condition is called insulin resistance. This state can continue for years together.
Glucose as fuel for the body
Our body like any machine needs fuel. Glucose acts as energy source for the body. Cells absorb glucose through their walls to be used as energy.
What we eat can be classified in three types, carbohydrates & sugar, protein and fats. Food is digested in the stomach. Carbs, protein and fat is converted to glucose. Using a churning action the stomach mechanically breaks down food into small particles. Further breaking down is done by chemical action using acid and enzymes.
This mixture is next pushed to the small intestine which furthers the digestive process. It is also here that the absorption of nutrients begins. Glucose is send into the blood stream.
Insulin is the key
After a meal is digested, the blood sugar level rises due to the entry of glucose in the blood stream. Carbs and sugar convert to glucose immediately, almost all of it. Protein comes next in lesser quantity and slowly. Fat comes next and is the slowest. Fats also contain the least amount of carb and hence creates the least glucose. The more carbs you consume, the more your blood is pumped with glucose. Fats help you feel full for a longer time.
Lifestyle ailments begin with excessive consumption of carbs which is the norm today. Let us understand the harmful effect of carbs on our body.
The glucose in blood cannot be absorbed directly by the cells. For that it needs the help of the hormone insulin. Like all other hormones, insulin is also a key to open the cell walls to allow glucose the enter the cells. Once the glucose is absorbed by the cells, the leftover is send to the liver to be stored as fat. Glucose is converted to glycogen. Liver is the refrigerator of our body which stores excess energy to be used later.
A few hours after the meal is digested, with no food in the stomach, the body demands more energy. Body maintains a certain level of glucose in the blood. Once the cells demand more energy, they send a signal to the pancreas to produce more insulin which again deliver the glucose inside the cells. This leads to a drop in sugar levels in the body. This signals the pancreas to release another hormone called Glucagon. This hormone induces the liver to convert the stored energy in the form of glycogen back to glucose and release it into the blood. Thereafter insulin unlocks the cell walls so that glucose can be absorbed and used.
Whatever fat which was stored in the liver is released as energy reserve till the body gets the next meal.
How does the body get fat? – Beginning of fatty liver condition
It requires a series of advanced medical tests to determine if you have fatty liver. But a simple way to check is stand up and look down. If you see a belly, you are in the first stage of fatty liver. Here is the most important part of how and why the body starts storing fat and you gain weight.
When there is excessive consumption of sugar and carbs, the digestive system pushes excessive glucose into your blood. The natural body mechanism immediately kicks in to lower the sugar levels of your blood. The same mechanism as explained in the previous para begins. It is the responsibility of the liver to bring down the glucose in the blood. After the cells have absorbed, the rest is taken in by the liver. But what happens when the liver is full and there is still glucose left in the blood. Now the liver is forced to convert this glucose into fat and store it at the belly area as visceral fat.
Excessive carb and sugar consumption floods your blood with glucose. After pushing glucose into the cells, the remaining is stored in liver. If there is still glucose left, the liver has no choice but to store it as visceral fat or belly fat.
But the story of weight gain does not stop here. Carb consumption is like an addiction. The more you eat, the more you crave for. The happy hormones serotonin and dopamine also get involved here. Eating carbs will make you happy. All those street food, breads, pastries, fast food, desserts and sweets start making you happy. All this glucose flooded in your blood stream will eventually have to be converted to fat.
Eating all those carbs will accumulated around your waist and different parts of the body as fat. As per your body frame, different amounts of fat can be stored on different people. Once that limit is crossed, your body moves from fatty liver condition to early stages of insulin resistance.
Insulin begins to lose its edge
Due to reasons still unknown, the insulin slowly stops working as a key. It does not happen all of a sudden like a switch but slowly and gradually, sometimes over a period of years. It might begin with a few insulin hormones unable to unlock the cell walls. Energy deprived cells then send a signal to the pancreas to create more insulin.
This leads to a situation where the blood is now flooded with insulin. The body is working harder to keep the blood sugar levels down. Blood pressure levels also rise trying to make the insulin push harder to open the cell walls. Despite the excess of fat stored in the body the cells continue to beg for more glucose.
The body reaches the point where the limits of storing fat has exhausted and there is still excess of glucose in the blood. The cells still don’t get enough energy and they are forcing the pancreas to secrete more insulin. All this while you are still craving for carbs and consuming carbs in every meal. Carbs is also making you feel hungry even after consuming a meal. Other body and metabolic functions also take a hit like the digestive system.
Two dangerous process also begins side by side. Sugar in the blood makes you red blood cells sticky. Bunched up red blood cells lose their flexibility to enter the tiny capillaries. Oxygenated blood does not reach the extremities of our body. This obstructs cell and tissue healing and leads to skin darkening and cracks. Dead skin cells flourish all over your body.
The second process is connected with the calcification of arteries also known as calcified plague buildup in the arteries. Insulin resistance causes inflammation. It creates a tear in the artery wall. Sealing and repairing this tear is done by a mix of calcium, fibrin and cholesterol. This process makes cholesterol the devil but do remember that the root cause of inflammation is insulin resistance. Other contributing reasons can be stress, smoking and even lack of Omega 3.
In this phase, your body has entered the final stage of insulin resistance. Most of your bio markers are above the danger line, like BP, Cholesterol, body weight, uric acid and so on. Your blood sugar test might still come normal. But your body is overloaded keeping the blood sugar under control and it is barely managing.
One fine day your pancreas just give up totally and stop producing insulin. This condition is called type – 2 diabetes which we all know the stage where you cannot survive without regular medicine.